Gender equality golden discussion thread

Women in religious leadership came under the loupe in a panel discussion towards the end of last year at Hillbrow’s historical Women’s Jail, hosted by the SA Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED). Community stalwart and deputy chairman of the SAZF Reeva Forman (pictured left), was MC. It featured Zaakirah Akram of Cape Town’s Open Mosque; Reverend Lutz Ackerman of the Lutheran Church of Peace in Hillbrow; Rabbi Julia Margolis from Bet David, Sandton; and Ba’hai representative Khwezi Fudu Cenenda


Rabbi Margolis said: “Why do we need women rabbis? What does it say about the community in which a female is encouraged to hold such an office? If we ask such a question, we need to ask why we need women doctors – remembering that only a hundred years ago in England, Parliament considered it absolutely a breach of professionalism.

Cenenda, diplomatic liaison for the Ba’hai community added: “G-d created all of mankind with no distinction between male and female. G-d judges human actions, not actions as they are performed by a man or by a woman.

“When women are suppressed there is injustice. Until the world realises this, there will not be peace. I pray for the time where it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman when you achieve things. I pray for the time when it doesn’t matter when you are ‘the first black’, ‘the first woman’. I pray for the time when humanity can identify itself as humanity.”

Reverend Ackerman is proactive in projects between his community and the Union of Jewish Women. In South Africa since 2001, he was ordained in Bavaria. With affiliation credentials in Lutheran and Anglican dogma, he said: “Transformation of theological thinking is nowhere near complete.” He itemised the growing number of women in Anglican and Lutheran church leadership as he interrogated Roman Catholic canonical principles.

“What is religious leadership based on? Education? A divine calling? And what’s the laity’s role? Sometimes it’s not only a question of legality but one of citizens making decisions.”

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RIGHT: SACRED’s Chairman, Leah Livni, with Reeva Forman, deputy chairman of the South African Zionist Federation; and Bet David’s Rabbi Julia Margolis – PIC ROBYN SASSEN

Akram, a lawyer, said: “When you think of a Muslim woman, what do you expect? Someone like me?” Dressed in a tailored suit, she grinned at the audience’s perplexity. “The current stereotype for Islam is not about non-judging. It’s about terror. We, at the Open Mosque officially celebrate our second month,” she alluded to threats the establishment has weathered, before proceeding to examine the Qur’an’s exegesis regarding women.

“At the Open Mosque, women are treated as equals to men and access the mosque through the main entrance. We pray in the same area as our fathers, sons and brothers. We encourage women to empower and educate themselves through teachings in the Qur’an and by extension, teaching their male and female offspring they are equals.

“Women are actively involved in the Open Mosque, where they are encouraged to participate in a formerly male-dominated society. Gender equality cannot be achieved without active participation. We need to focus on not drawing attention to ourselves,” she emphasised.